Oil Politics Ooze Into North Carolina Senate Race

ZUMA Press/Newscom

It may be hundreds of miles away from the site of the still-leaking Deepwater Horizons rig, but the politics of America’s worst oil spill has already made its way up the eastern seaboard to North Carolina. Sen. Richard Burr (R) — a one-term incumbent on the long end of the list of targets for November — is coming under fire from Democrats over his continued support for offshore drilling even as speculation mounts that oil from the BP spill could land on Carolina beaches before all is said and done.

Even before they choose who’ll face Burr in the fall, state Democrats are aiming to make the spill an issue for Burr. In a new online campaign (the first salvo of which was obtained by TPMDC today) they say will expand after the June 22 Democratic primary runoff, they’re claiming he’s chosen to give BP a free pass as the environmental catastrophe spreads.

For his part, Burr has brushed off the attacks, criticizing Democrats for politicizing the ongoing catastrophe. Underneath it all is the specter of oil washing up on the NC shore, an event that could take oil politics in the state from the realm of philosophical debate to local hot-button issue.For now, though, state Democrats are keeping the focus on Burr’s reaction to the events in the Gulf. Burr has continued to publicly support increased offshore drilling though the crisis, and recently told the Raleigh News and Observer that Democrats have been to quick to lay blame at the feet of BP for the lack of progress in stopping the spill.

When asked, “Burr said he had no criticism of BP,” the paper reported. “Unlike some, I am not going to second guess what is going on,” he said.

Democrats say that’s enough to put him on the wrong side of public opinion in North Carolina.

“I expect this to emerge as a significant contrast with Burr,” State Democratic party communications director Mark Giangreco told me yesterday. “Jobs is still the top issue, but this fits into the broader theme of Burr being a tool of the special interests in Washington–on health care, on financial reform, and now on offshore drilling, Burr has sided with the special interests instead of standing up for North Carolinians.”

In addition to the new state party efforts, both Democratic candidates in the runoff — Secretary of State Elaine Marshall and Iraq War vet Cal Cunningham — have attacked Burr in recent days over the spill, forcing Burr to respond even before the general election officially begins.

His take so far? Let’s talk about this later.

“This is not about elections or politics, this is about capping this well and containing the leak so we can move forward with cleaning up the oil and preventing any further damage to the Gulf and Gulf Coast communities,” Burr told TPMDC in a statement. “After addressing these immediate concerns, we must focus on better understanding what failed and why it did so we can hold accountable those responsible and avoid this type of disaster in the future.”

Polls show Burr is safe to do what he wants for now — he has double-digit leads over both Democrats at the moment.

Still, Democrats are forcing Burr to talk about the issue in the local media even as the oil remains hundreds of miles away from NC beaches. Should it reach the shore, he could find himself drowning in the politics of the oil spill.

Check out the North Carolina Democratic attack video — featuring that scary graphic of oil reaching the eastern seaboard — below:

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